In the increasingly crowded corner of Batman event series, crossovers, and one-shots, it's difficult to carve out something truly distinct and original, while also serving loyal fans of the crimefighting character created by Bob Kane with Bill Finger.
But if there's anyone who can do it, and with a certain serious style, it's veteran writer Kurt Busiek. Busiek has had some historic and groundbreaking runs on books like Marvels and Astro City with Alex Ross and has a confident grasp of how best to tell engaging stories via the vast comic book medium.
DC's Batman: Creature of the Night is one of those rare instances of artistic synergy that transcends other Bat tales and resonates long after reading. Written by Busiek and paired with stirring, noirish art by John Paul Leon, this new four-issue series is rooted in a refreshing realism and begins in Boston in 1968 when a young Batman-loving boy finds a deep connection to the Caped Crusader through a tragic event in his life.
Here's the official solicitation synopsis:
Young Bruce Wainwright lost his parents in a violent crime… and in the real world, no superheroes exist to save the day. But as grief and rage builds inside Bruce until he feels he can’t keep it inside anymore, something strange starts taking wing in the Gotham night! Perhaps Bruce’s grief isn’t inside him after all?
Modern masters Kurt Busiek and John Paul Leon unite for the spiritual companion to the beloved SUPERMAN: SECRET IDENTITY, putting a new spin you’ve never seen before on the legend of Batman—and the dark emotions that drive him!
SYFY WIRE spoke with Busiek and Leon about the origins of this provocative new tale set amid the historic neighborhoods of Boston and learned more on this sister title to 2004's acclaimed Superman: Secret Identity, what readers can anticipate as the series strikes out into 2018, and why this particularly personal Batman story sets itself apart.
Check out our interview below with an exclusive peek at the first issue to set your mind in motion. Batman: Creature of the Night #1 hits comic shops in a special 48-page prestige format on Wednesday, November 29 (today!).
Creature of the Night feels very different than most modern Batman tales in its level of somber realism and purity. How did the project originate and how was it pitched to DC?
KURT BUSIEK: Well, in this case, it's all tied up in a project I did called Superman: Secret Identity, which was a story about somebody named Clark Kent gaining the powers of Superman in the real world. I used that story as a way to explore the secret self we all have inside, that we only share with people in specific ways. It was a success and DC was interested in doing more. I told them that we could do a Batman project but it would be very different.
Superman is at its core a metaphor about adolescence, a power fantasy built around the teenage years. Batman isn't. Batman is a story of anger and frustration and not being able to control the world and make it fair. It's a metaphor about a younger stage of life, essentially like an eight-year-old wanting to impose his idea of fairness and justice on a complicated world. It was not a complicated pitch, it got complicated afterwards. This is not a sequel because it's not set in the same world. It's a sister project that stands on its own, but also stands alongside Secret Identity and came in the wake of that.
You set the story in 1968 Boston. What's the significance of that particular time and place for you?
KB: The time is significant because we wanted our main character, Bruce Wainwright, to be a Batman fan but we also wanted to leave him room to grow up. So having him be someone who was just the right age to be a huge fan of the Adam West TV show, and as he gets older over the course of the story we're not going to age him all the way to the present day. We didn't want a Batman story, which is essentially a story of crime and horror, to wind up set in the future. Starting in 1968 gave us a time when Batman was very much in the public consciousness and it allows room for young Bruce to grow to adulthood dealing with all this stuff without facing the issue of catching up with the present day.
I grew up in the Boston area and that gave me knowledge about Boston, so when I mention the city's newspapers and television shows I didn't have to look it up. But I grew up in suburban Boston and my parents didn't get killed so very little of this story is autobiographical. It's set in Boston because we wanted to set it in a place that felt to Bruce like Gotham City. Boston has preserved a lot of the older buildings and there are neighborhoods that just feel like it would be a great place for Batman to be tooling around. It allowed us to go a little differently than Manhattan in Secret Identity and gave us a background of visual images that John Paul could play with that were distinctive and kinda gothic and spooky.
How can you compare and contrast the art of Secret Identity's Stuart Immonen with that of this series' artist, John Paul Leon?
KB: The one thing we knew going in, was we didn't want someone whose work looked like Stuart's. We didn't want an imitation. We wanted to say who would be the best in doing a story like this for Batman. It's a personal story, but it's also a horror story and a crime story and a noir story. So who's really good at that kind of credible humanity and realistic settings, but who's also dynamite at noir and crime and emotional horror that underlies all the story. If you add all that up it spells John Paul Leon.
What sort of tone, style and color palette did you approach Kurt's words and story with?
JOHN PAUL LEON: It's pretty straightforward for me. The thing I find most compelling about bringing the story to life is that point where the unreal meets the real. In comics we're constantly using iconography, the language of comics, to communicate which is the polar opposite of the naturalism of the real word we exist in. I'm really attracted to finding that distillation of the two that still works, and so this story was the perfect opportunity to try and immerse myself in that. It's really a question of trying to draw as well as I can and bring a kind of naturalism to these moments that aren't real, but exist in a real concept.
KB: And I want to point out that this is very much OUR story. I had written a full script for issue one long before John was part of the project but when John read it his first reaction, besides saying that he liked it, was to make suggestions about moving characters in this or that direction. So I did a top-to-toe rewrite of the script to bring in his ideas and tailor it toward his approach, and at that point it became a collaborative story and something we did together.
What was it like working with each other and what research did you do on the setting's decade?
JPL: Working with Kurt has just been a joy and he really understands comics and has a vision for what the overall communication will be when the art and words are married together. As far as references? Books and Google images and amassing large quantities of photo reference files and picking and choosing everything from hairstyles and cars. It really is a period story and the period changes with each issue, so there's a great deal of reference, but I enjoy that aspect of the work.
KB: I rewrote the script with his art style in mind so that tied things together nicely to some degree. I had the advantage of growing up at the same age thirty miles from where Bruce was growing up in the story so I had a lot of historical knowledge just from living through it that was useful. It's implied in the first issue that Bruce's Uncle Alfred is gay, so I did research on what the gay community in Boston was like at the time so when I had to drop information about Alfred into the story I got it right.
What can readers expect as the miniseries rolls out over the next few months?
KB: There's shooting!
JPL: Yes, there's lots of gunfire and there's different periods and the evolution of the character as he gets older. Without giving away too much, we start to see how he has to handle the power he possesses and where that leads him.
KB: In addition to being a crime story, this is a character story and a horror story about somebody dealing with trauma, both in a kind of a fantasy way that ties into what Batman has always been in the comics, and in a real world sense that explores the way superheroes would actually be hailed. Batman would not be seen as somebody you put on Underoos and breakfast cereals. Batman would be a very, very scary thing.
There will be a Robin, but not perhaps the kind of Robin that you think, and we'll see more with Officer Gordon who shows up in issue number one. This is not one of those stories where you trot out altered versions of the regular cast and have everything work out the same. There are reasons for there to be a Gordon and an Alfred and a Robin but they go in the direction this story needs to go to and not in the pattern that the Batman mythology has built up over the years. And DC's prestige format provides you with a bigger, deeper canvas per chapter. It's been an immense privilege to work with John Paul on this comic. I hope people like it.
JPL: And it's nice to see no ads in the book when you flip through it and just see the pages juxtaposed against each other. Ads can be kind of intrusive. It's a more immersive experience.